Kathy Swan interview with B Magazine

Kathy Swan, a lifelong resident of Cape Girardeau, stands for a photo at the top of the Cape Girardeau Common Pleas Courthouse steps.
Aaron Eisenhower ~ B Magazine

There are a number of important political races in our area this year, a few, because of term limits, pitting talented individuals against each other in districts without an incumbent. The following interview is with State Rep. Kathy Swan (R-Cape Girardeau), who is running for Senate District 27. The district encompasses all of the counties of Bollinger, Cape Girardeau, Madison, Mississippi, Perry and Scott. Swan answered questions from B Magazine and provided a three-sentence self-introduction. To read interviews with other candidates profiled in B Magazine, click here.

Kathy Swan

Republican candidate for Missouri Senate District 27

Current representative for Missouri House District 147

Swan: I am a small businesswoman running a small wireless communications company, and I previously worked as a nurse. I am proud to have served on the Missouri Coordinating Board for Higher Education, the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority and Missouri Senate Reapportionment Commission. I served on the Cape Girardeau City Council and Cape Girardeau School Board and was elected to the Missouri House in 2012, where I have worked to encourage economic growth, get government out of the way and protect the sanctity of life.

How old were you when you had your first job?

Swan: At nine years old, my mother and father started our family business, Johnson Communications Service. Since it was operating from our home, I began answering the telephone and taking messages from customers. I did not even think of it as being a job!

What is an important lesson you learned early in your career?

Swan: The most important lesson is doing the right thing with integrity, accuracy and follow-through. Honesty, attention to detail and following through on commitments are critical for work and for life.

As a child, my mother stressed the importance of doing the right thing, being truthful, keeping one's word and being respectful of others. She believed that how things are done is just as important as the result.

Nurses taught the "Five 'Rights' to Medication Administration:" give the right medication, in the right dosage, by the right route, at the right time to the right patient. These rights along with my mother's insistence on doing the right thing became a permanent part of my ethical framework in life and in nursing, in our small business, in community service and in building relationships with others.

How did you finance college?

Swan: I was fortunate that my parents paid for my college education. It took a lot of hard work and sacrifice to give me this opportunity, and I am grateful for it. Neither of my parents were able to complete high school. My father was forced to drop out of Central High School to work at the shoe factory to help support his large family.

Living in Laflin, the nearest high school in Marble Hill was much too far away for my mother to attend. She longed to become a nurse. Therefore, it was important for them to ensure that I had the opportunity to attend college.

Without having to work during the college years, it allowed much more time for study for my difficult major! There were 60 freshmen in my nursing school class; 12 of us completed the two-year program.

After our son was born, I completed a baccalaureate degree in nursing followed by an additional 30 hours in business. Due to our family business, I needed the extra knowledge in accounting, marketing, finance and management!

Describe the different steps in your career and why you made the choices you did.

Swan: Nursing: 1970-1996

Floor nurse on medical-surgical unit: FT

Floor nurse on progressive cardiac care unit: PRN

Administrative supervisor: PRN

Employee health nurse: PT

Infection control nurse: PRN

Clinical nursing instructor at Southeast Missouri State University: PT

JCS Wireless: Childhood to present

As a child: Helped answer customer calls and radio dispatched messages

As a teenager: Helped with customer billing

When my mother died, I took over more responsibility for the family business while still maintaining a career in nursing. Nursing gave me the opportunity to practice my profession and satisfied my passion for learning in my field.

I did not plan to enter the family business from the outset. I worked hard to balance my nursing career with the demands of helping to run a small business, helping my family through the challenges and ultimately purchasing the business in 1986.

Managing a wireless communications company is an entirely different experience from nursing. Over the years, the business was impacted from changing technology and moved from a service business to retail business, which required a change in marketing and in operations. Additionally, I went from earning a comfortable salary to having the concerns of meeting a small business payroll!

Balancing the family business responsibilities and a nursing career was a challenge, but rewarding. While the job duties were vastly different, working with others, building relationships and doing the "right things" were the same.

Tell about one of your favorite books about business, leadership or government. Why should others read it?

Swan: "On Becoming a Leader" by Warren Bennis stresses that leaders are made, not born, and they continue to grow and develop throughout life. Rather than being a series of lessons, Bennis sees leadership as a process and that leaders learn by their life experiences.

How would you describe your management style?

Swan: "Interpersonal" is the best word to describe my management style. As a young nurse with responsibility for several patients along with three to four staff members, I quickly learned how to remain approachable and delegate with kindness and respect. This same approach has been sharpened through much volunteer work with both local and state organizations and boards.

And your vision of your personal public service?

Swan: I want to ensure that Southeast Missouri continues to thrive and that families in this region continue to have access to good jobs and good schools. I also want to make sure we keep our community safe. I always focus on policies that will make a meaningful difference for families in Southeast Missouri, and I am proud of the progress I have made on important issues like promoting our economy through workforce development programs and protecting the sanctity of life.

What would colleagues say is your biggest strength? And weakness?

Swan: Strength: Relationships and working with others.

Weakness: My assumption that everyone is truthful and can be taken at face value.

Tell about a specific time you faced adversity.

Swan: Whether losing my mother at an early age to cancer, facing my own breast cancer diagnosis, facing our son's cancer diagnosis or the struggles of a small family business, the lesson has always been the same:

Accept not being in control.

Take charge of your emotions.

Have faith in God.

Use adversity as an opportunity to grow and learn.

What can state government do to best help businesses and workers?

Swan: The best that state government can do to help businesses and workers is to remove regulatory barriers and stay out of the way. The state can take a lesson from the recent waivers and determine which regulatory waivers can be made permanent and review others that could be eliminated. Our businesses and economy would benefit.

Why do you want to serve in government -- right now, at this moment in time?

Swan: I believe our state needs strong, conservative voices to make real progress on the issues important to Missouri families and small businesses, rather than letting special interests kill good bills. We need people who will work to move our economy forward using all the tools in the toolbox, including increased workforce training, innovative initiatives to attract new jobs and eliminating unnecessary regulatory barriers.

What message would you tell young people who are just starting their careers about how to be successful?

Swan: I would suggest that young people should develop good work habits including attention to detail, follow through on their commitments, have a positive attitude and look at every opportunity -- no matter how challenging -- as a learning experience, and learn how to work effectively with others. Volunteering in the community is a great way to build relationships and to learn skills that can be transferred to the workplace.